A LITTLE SUNSHINE
The fanning didn’t help to cool Sadie. She placed the cardboard fan on the cushion beside her. It rested atop her leather bound Bible. The book’s pages were yellowing and the gold embossed letters on the front were faded. Shifting her weight in her seat, she slipped off her white orthopedic shoes. She looked around. No one noticed. There was a single wasp circling above the choir stand where the choir sat without their usual robes. Ceiling fans were suspended from the high ceilings of the room. They didn’t help to cool Sadie either.
“It sure is a scorcher,” she said, leaning over to whisper to her fellow usher.
“Pastor say they was gon’ fix the air, but it looks to me like they don’t intend to,” the plump woman responded. The buttons on her white uniform strained to hold in her chest and there was makeup on her collar.
“It’s a Tennessee July. They better do something, or I reckon we gon’ burn up in here. It’s hotter than blue blazes. What’s the use of being a God fearing Christian woman, if comin’ to church is like hell’s flamin’ fire?”
“Lord,” her friend exclaimed with a hearty laugh. “You sure said that. You’s funny, Sadie. Got me laughin’ on this here back row of God’s house.” Sadie cracked a forced smile and twirled her lace kerchief in her fingers.
“Everything alright, Sister Sadie?” her friend asked. “You been lookin’ mighty glum today.”
“Oh, I’m doin’ fine. It’s just one of those rough days when your mind starts wanderin’ and the devil starts to workin’. I’m just lettin’ the spirit carry me.”
The sparsely populated congregation was animated. Each swaying body was accompanied with a spoken “Amen”. The pastor’s howling voice billowed over the sound system, accented by deep breaths between words. He spoke about the love of God. He spoke about the love of one’s neighbor. He spoke about the perils that faced young people. Sadie was clinging to his every word.
“You see, we’re living in dark times now. We need to stay on our knees in prayer, church,” the pastor shouted. His words became more deliberate. His speech was pointed and cutting. He spoke about a recently elected openly gay official. A hush came over the congregation. Once the members adjusted to the taboo subject, murmurs of disapproval buzzed about. “It’s bad enough to have babies having babies, people killing each other in the streets, and fathers leaving their families like stray mutts. Now we have people out here trying to govern this land who don’t know much about governing themselves. We gotta pray, church!” The pastor raised his fist in declaration as he denounced the voters’ decision to uplift someone to such an esteemed position who lacked the moral compass to lead effectively. He shook his hand from side to side with his fingers outstretched as he described the politician as “funny”. As his speech became more inflamed, Sadie became more withdrawn. Abruptly, she stood to her feet, gathered her things, and wiggled through the pews to the church’s exit. Her friend called out to her in a hushed voice. Sadie ignored her. The pastor was in mid sentence as she closed the creaking wooden front door behind her.
Standing in her kitchen, Sadie stared at the phone for minutes before picking up the yellow receiver. She dialed, certain that she would not get an answer.
“Hello,” a voice answered.
“Melanie, it’s your grandmother.”
“I know. What’s going on? What’s the matter?”
“Can’t I call my grandbaby without bein’ questioned?”
“No, because you never call your grandbabies.”
“I know,” Sadie replied. She paused and sighed deeply. “Will you and your brother come to the house? I need to see you both.”
“Nana, even if I come, you know it would be impossible to convince Norm to come out there.”
"Just try, baby,” she pleaded. “He won’t take my calls. I have some things to say.” Sadie paused for a response. Melanie was silent before releasing an audible sigh.
“I will call him. No promises.”
“Be here at five o’clock. I’ll be here.”
“Ok, Nana. I’ll be there.”
On the edge of her sofa, she sat rocking and rubbing her hands together. She glanced at the clock on the wall, and lowered her head. Sadie got up to put the food away when she heard a car door slam. Her heart skipped a beat.
“Come on in,” she said with a smile. Melanie stopped to hug her grandmother. Norm nodded, and walked into the living room to stand near the sofa. He opted not to sit.
“It’s good to see you, Nana.” Melanie put her purse on the coffee table and sat in a plastic covered high back chair.
“How are the kids, Melanie?”
"They’re fine. They’re with their father. Nana, may I ask what this is about?”
“Well, I was just thinking. You both know what today is, and I just wanted to check on you.”
“Yes,” Melanie replied. “Mama died ten years ago today.”
“Right. I had to see my grandchildren today.”
"Nana,” Norm spoke up. “What makes today different? There have been nine other anniversaries of our mother’s death and you haven’t called us. Why now? Why did you call us here?” He glared at his grandmother as he crossed his arms.
“Well,” she sighed. “I was at church today.”
“Of course you were,” Norm replied.
“I was at church, and Pastor started talkin’ about turnin’ from wicked ways and how the church needs to pray. He started preachin’ ‘bout adultery and all those things. Then he got on gay folks—“
“I’m not listening to this. Look, Nana. I didn’t drive all the way to Somerville, Tennessee to have you try and spout some conversion therapy again. I’m an adult. I’m living my life. Let me live it. I get so tired of church people. You know everyone in there isn’t saved. Nana, everyone who’s on their knees isn’t praying. Come on, Melanie. Let’s go.”
“Just hear me out,” Sadie begged.
“I’ve heard you many times, Nana.”
“Let her finish, Norm.” Melanie held her hand up to Norm while fixing her eyes on her grandmother. Norm sat on the sofa adjacent to Melanie’s chair.
“Thank you,” Sadie said. “As I said, the preacher did all that talkin’, and I did somethin’ I’ve never done before. I got up and left.” Melanie looked at Norm as he leaned forward in his seat. “You see, pastor talked about all of these people who aren’t like me and him. He talked about how they don’t have a place in God’s house, and I just don’t know if I believe that anymore. Magdalene, Zaccheus, Noah, and David. People like that. None of ‘em were perfect, and God still used ‘em. I thought of your mother. I didn’t treat her the best way I could have.”
“You treated her like shit,” Norm said.
“Mind how you talk, boy,” Sadie warned. “You’re right though. I wasn’t there for her. When she died, I guess a normal grandmother should have been there for you. I didn’t know how. I didn’t know how to deal with you. Melanie, I know I got pregnant with your mother before I was married, but we did the right thing and got in front of a preacher as soon as we could. Then you come along bringin’ babies in this world without so much as a brass ring on your finger. And Norm, I don’t understand how a man wants to lay up with another hard legged man for no lovin’. It don’t sit right with me. But you’re my family.” Norm and Melanie sat frozen. “I need to know my family. That’s why I invited y’all here today to eat and talk.”
“I’m not hungry,” Norm replied.
“You see those plants over there?” Sadie asked. Neither of them replied. “Those house plants are all dead ‘cept for one. I’m a southern woman, but I don’t know a thing about green thumbs. I let them all die. But that one stayed growing. I didn’t bother it and it’s steady livin’. What would have happened if I had watered it and gave it a little sunshine? It would have growed much bigger than that. That’s just what I’m sayin’ 'bout you two. You’re gonna grow and live no matter what I do. I could have more time with you if I just nurtured you like I should. Give you a little sunshine. I lost my only daughter. I can’t lose her babies.”
“Nana, why now? How are we supposed to have faith in you?” Melanie asked.
“Because you love me. And I love you. I figured I owed it to all of us to reach out to you. Either you’d reach back or you’d walk out, but I couldn’t go another day without reachin’.” They sat in solemn silence. It appeared as if Sadie’s words did nothing to cool their tempers. “My good God don’t want us to stop lovin’ each other over things we can’t control. Now, I’m askin’ you for forgiveness. I got porkchops, collards, yams, cornbread, sweet tea, and pie in there that won’t eat itself. We can talk about some things over dinner. What do you say?”
Melanie and Norm looked at each other without speaking. Melanie looked down at the floor and Norm turned his head to look at the wall. They ignored their grandmother’s plea. She began to sob and walked into the kitchen to put the food away. They sat for a moment. There was no movement, aside from a whirring box fan positioned in the window.
“Do you believe her?” Norm asked his sister.
“I’m not sure what to believe, but I can’t exactly turn my back. Something tells me she’s for real. I think she’s sorry.”
“After all of this time, she’s coming around?”
“Stranger things have happened. We owe it to mama to try.”
“We do,” he sighed. “She said that she has pie. I wonder what flavor it is. Humble?”
“You’re silly, Norm,” Melanie chuckled. “Let’s catch her before she puts the food away. I hope we all can be close again. If we don’t forgive her, we’re just as bad as she is.”
“You’re right. As skeptical as I am, I love her. I’m hesitant, but she’s more important to me than principle. We’ll see where this goes. Let’s eat.”
“Let’s get some sunshine.” Norm followed Melanie into the kitchen. They each hugged their grandmother, picked up empty plates, and filled them with possibilities.
A LITTLE SUNSHINE by George Arnett ©2014